07.08.2016 - 19.08.2016
7th August (continued)
When we left you last we had just posted the blog. We then had some lunch in Longyearbyen and stopped off at the Svalbard Coop for a look around. It was such a surprise to see the variety of items available for sale. On a Sunday it is only open from 15:00 to 18:00 so even the locals were standing around waiting for the store to open. We then took a leisurely walk back to the ship. A lot of you know that we love our big things. Well I found a big mailbox. Apparently all the local children leave their letters there for Santa.
The other amazing experience we had today was a sighting of beluga whales. A massive pod of them came up the fjord, they were everywhere as far as you could see. Some of them came over near the ship. Our naturalist said a conservative figure was 150 beluga whales. Our whale expert said that he had never seen so many at once and was pretty excited.
Adventurers started to arrive for the new expedition. There are 8 of us hardy adventurers who are signed on for the back to back adventure. Now all aboard we total 54 adventurers with nationalities representing Australia (36), China (1), Israel (2), Italy (1), Korea (2), New Zealand (3), UK (4) and USA (5). We also have 11 Aurora Expedition staff and 22 Russian and one Ukraine crew. Once again we were called together to go through the safety briefing and the compulsory lifeboat drill. The blast of seven-short and one-long from the ship’s signal system was our cue to don warm clothes, bulky orange lifejackets and gather at the muster stations to sample the ambience of a Polar Class life vessel. We cast off lines and steamed away from this northerly outpost for the last time, steered a course westward out of Isfjorden, and north towards new adventures. After dinner the new adventurers were kitted out with their gumboots while we had time to relax.
The sun shone through the clouds as we steamed north up the coast of Spitsbergen. As the Polar Pioneer passed a few of the 1600 glaciers of Svalbard we stood out on deck soaking up the Arctic. Virgohamna was the first sight we laid eyes upon. While it didn’t look like much, many exciting events and stories have happened here over the years. A balloon expedition by the Swedish Saloman Andree in 1897 brought notoriety to this piece of Danskoya. Having tried and failed to fly a hot air balloon to the North Pole two times prior, Andree, along with two other men, finally attempted a third and final time on this kamikaze mission, only to meet a fateful end as their balloon crashed in the ice and the Svalbard winter took its toll. Moving forward in time to the present we made our way to a sheltered bay where Harbor Seals could be found lolling about or sitting still as statues on the rocks. This is the most northern colony of Harbor Seals in the world.
We continued in our zodiacs to Smeerenburg, where we landed and walked around what was left of the old blubber ovens. This was one of the largest whaling stations in all of Spitsbergen in the 17th century.
Early in the morning the announcement came over the PA that we were approaching Moffen Island. This low lying nature reserve, with its sandy beach, was host to a group of walrus. These tooth walkers, as they are called, were hauled out on the beach, kicking back between foraging journeys. Walrus were hunted to near extinction in Svalbard. During the industrial era they were hunted not only for their ivory tusks but for their blubber, used for numerous commercial and household uses, and their tough hide used, amongst other things, for industrial machine belts. The good news is that due to protection of the species in the 1950’s, the Svalbard population is again flourishing.
After breakfast we made our way to Woodfjorden in north Svalbard. We were on the lookout for wildlife but just as impressive were the stark mountains and the waters of the fjord. We clambered into the zodiacs and zoomed ashore at Erikbreen located in an arm of the Leifdefjorden. The weather was unusual. We stood in the sun whilst on the other side of the fjord it was raining.
We had a chance to wander on the tundra and climb to the top of the glacier’s terminal moraine.
We had lovely views of the glacier and its surroundings.
There were still some last of the season wild flowers around and the patterns in the rock were extremely unusual.
And a couple of puffins.
After lunch we were back out in the zodiacs to relish close up views of Monacobreen. The glaciers vital statistics: 5km wide, 50-60m high, 38km in extent. The 2 neighbouring glaciers were joined until 2009 when the glacier receded to expose the dividing mountain. While Monacobreen is retreating, it currently moves 2-3 metres per day with a high rate of calving.
There were kittiwakes everywhere around the front of the glacier awaiting their share of any nutrients and fish they could find from a fresh calving.
We had dinner and then commenced our 2-day adventure across the Greenland Sea to Greenland. What would be in store? Calm seas or stormy seas?
Our first day at sea saw us relax with a leisurely breakfast and then enjoy the vast Greenland Sea. The day was filled with whale watching and lectures on the History of Svalbard and Birds of the Arctic. So who did discover Spitsbergen. Was it the Vikings who back in the 12th century made mention of a route to Svalbard in the Sagas? Or could the word Svalbard translating to cold rim or cold coast, have really referred to the edge of the pack ice rather than new land? Was it the Russian Pomors who came in their sturdy vessels to hunt and trap? To this day evidence of wooden crosses and settlements can be found throughout Spitsbergen. Could the real discoverer be Dutch navigator Willem Barrents who in the 1590’s sailed north to Svalbard to find a trading route through the North East passage? Whoever it was, Barrents named the archipelago Spitsbergen, translating to pointed peaks. It was not until the Svalbard Treaty of 1925, when Norway gained sovereignty, that the entire archipelago was renamed Svalbard, while Spitsbergen was recycled to name its largest island.
Our day at sea rolled on with flat seas and by the afternoon the sun glistened on the ocean. Northern Fulmars wheeled about, and all felt tranquil in our quiet world in the middle of nowhere.
Out on the bow or up on the bridge we spent beautiful hours gliding alongside the edge of remnant pack ice.
Alongside the ship was a small iceberg and there was a seal resting on it in the middle of nowhere. We came so close the wake of the ship washed him off the berg but he clambered back on.
Throughout the afternoon we had several whale sightings, the day was so clear you could see them coming up for air blowing water up into the air.
We saw around 15 Fin whales. They are the second largest whale and their fin is towards the back of their body.
The evening was topped off by being on the bridge for our first Blue whale sighting. It was off in the distance but not hard to miss. An estimated 27 metres in length.
Then whilst around half way across the Greenland Sea here is the midnight sun.
It was if we awoke in a dream as the sun shone through the low-lying fog. There was even a fogbow. (I have never heard of a fogbow)
Surrounded by a bright hazy white the Polar Pioneer made her way over a smooth sea towards Greenland. We even gained an extra hour due to a clock change. Our first 25 hours of daylight. During the morning there was a lecture on Greenland. It is written that in the saga of Eirik the Raude, he named Greenland because he felt it would attract people if the country had a beautiful name. Shortly after lunch the fog rose and the first mountains of East Greenland appeared. Land ahoy!
The bright sun shone across the pack ice and binoculars were glued to our eyes scanning the horizon for our first Greenland polar bear. Sharp eyes prevailed. We saw a single bear in the distance and eased our way towards him.
It was a healthy looking male. He put on a bit of a show for us, posing on the ice and jumping into the water and having a swim. From time to time he hauled himself out of the water and gave himself a good shake.
Later that afternoon it was decided that seeing it was a nice day we would do a zodiac cruise and go and land on some Greenland pack ice. Well why not? Zodiacs were launched and a tranquil cruise through the pack ice commenced.
Well we were in for a treat, as over the radio it was reported that a mother polar bear and 2 of this year’s cubs were in the distance. They were startled by the motors so we could not get too close and we were looking into the sun, but it was nice to see them so healthy.
Greenland total of polar bears – 4.
It had been such a lovely afternoon, but we had to finally go back to the ship.
So now that we are in Greenland. Here is a bit of information. Greenland is an autonomous country within the Danish Realm, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physio graphically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe (specifically Norway and Denmark, the colonial powers, as well as the nearby island of Iceland) for more than a millennium. Greenland is the world’s largest island; (Australia doesn’t count as it a continent-so they say, there were several comments coming from the 36 aussies on board). Over three-quarters of the island is covered by the only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica. With a population of about 56,000 in 2013, it is the least densely populated country in the world.
Bands of pack ice and a blanket of fog made for cautious manoeuvring as the ship weaved a course to Clavering Island. We then suddenly emerged out of pea-soup fog into a brilliant clear, sunny day. You can see the bank of fog.
We cruised along the fjord for some time, the scenery was beautiful and the rock formations were amazing.
Into zodiacs we piled, first to look at a most beautiful glacial iceberg, hopefully the first of many. It wasn’t until we saw the size relationship between the berg and a zodiac that we could fully process how big it was.
Then before us was Eskimoness which is on the southern coast of Clavering Island. It was time for our first steps on Greenland. The zodiacs went ashore at the site of a well-maintained SIRIUS hut.
Sirius Patrol, formerly The Sledge Patrol, originated as a result of meteorological stations that operated in NE Greenland prior to and during WWII. In 1941 the defence of NE Greenland became the responsibility of the patrol. They used dog sleds and had support from American ships and planes. In 1953 it became Sledge Patrol Sirius and to this day its role is to maintain Danish sovereignty, act as the police authority in the National Park, and conduct military surveillance. Sirius Patrol numbers 10-15 men and they patrol during winter still by dog sled.
The view from here was once again beautiful.
Eskimoness was the centre of high drama and conflict between Norwegian trappers and German soldiers at the start of WWII. The Germans burnt down their hut and the remains are still there today.
Onshore we enjoyed a walk on the tundra and headlands. It was getting so warm everyone was taking off layers of clothes. We had to remind ourselves that we were really in Greenland.
During the hike there were still some of the summer’s flowers around. We got to see Greenland’s national flower. The Broad-Leaved Willow Herb.
Upon opening our curtains, a sunny and shining Greenland awaited us. We had made our way down Kong Oscar Fjord. The scenery was amazing especially with the sun shining on the walls of rock. We got up early to make sure we could see the Devils Castle in its glory.
As the sun rose higher the colours of the rocks changed again.
After breakfast we made a short zodiac trip to shore. Blomsterbugta was the area that we found this morning’s entertainment. We made our way up the hill to Noa Lake. The lake water was quite brown due to the Devonian sandstone run off.
While the group were using their binoculars to look for musk ox over in the valley, we were alerted to an animal running up directly behind us. This big Greenlandic animal got a surprise in the form of a group of unsuspecting yet eager paparazzi.
We were also pleased to find a few Arctic Hare bouncing around on the tundra. They are white all year around with black tips on their ears, these hare can be found in groups of up to 100 during the winter time.
The afternoon’s cruise down Kejser Franz Joseph Fjord brought us out on deck. Sunnies and sunscreen were needed! The impressive steep and high red walls of rock jutted out of the fjord, with an occasional glacier, snowfield or waterfall interrupting the remarkable vista. The bands of colour were striking.
A lovely afternoon was spent at Paradisdalen. We landed ashore where it was so balmy we were wandering around in t-shirts. Who would have thought.
We had a wander up the hilly terrain and were lucky enough to see some more musk ox, there was even a calf.
You can see how high the rocks are and how big the glacial bergs are from the size of our ship in this photo.
On our way back to the ship we were greeted by a bearded seal.
Once on board we again sailed back down the fjord and got to enjoy the spectacular scenery one last time. Shane and I sat out the back of the ship in awe of this country. We didn’t really know what to expect and it has certainly exceeded our expectations.
This morning it was cloudy with a little drizzle, as we cruised along Alpefjorden.
We had arrived at Safstrombreen glacier. The morning felt otherworldly as we approached the glacier. We shut off engines to take in the full suite of crackling and popping issuing from the brash ice. Air bubbles sealed within the ice are ancient. Imagine the stories they hold. They could have come from the days of Erik the Red, or even Paleoeskimoes. Safstrombreen Glacier, rather than flowing from the Greenland Ice Cap, originates from two adjacent mountain valleys, evident by the volume of moraine being carried on the back of the glacier down to the fjord.
We made our way in zodiacs behind the fjord and landed on gravelly beached to climb upon the moraine and take in the glacier and its surroundings.
Around the ice we were treated to a visit from a bearded seal.
In the afternoon we cruised back down the fjord.
We made a landing at Skipperdalen to experience some of the most striking sedimentary sandstone formations imaginable. Unofficially named Gateau Point, the alternating colours and patterns in the rock defined belief.
It was then back to the ship for our longer steam south to the world’s largest fjord system, Scoresby Sund.
Apparently the tail winds were so strong in the night we arrived at Ittoqqortoormiit almost 5 hours earlier than expected. This allowed us a surprise extra outing, our first in Scoresby Sund. Sailing further into the fjord, we anchored at the mouth of Hurry Inlet. Learning the true meaning of “expedition” – where plans are always subject to change – the waves and beach were a bit too unfavourable for a zodiac landing so instead we zoomed across the way to two impressive icebergs.
Circumnavigating these massive bergs, we were able to begin to read the “Life of an Iceberg” We could see brilliant blue stripes cutting through the middle created from former crevasses or cracks that were filled with water and then froze.
The tidal marks smoothly undercutting the bottom show the slow but steady power of constantly lapping waves. Differing textures across the undulating surface tell of a time when the berg was orientated differently, or perhaps had more mass attached to it.
Light on these big bergs was out of this world. You can see how big they are by the zodiac next to this one.
Once back on board we had an informative briefing about the Greenlandic village we would visit after lunch. Established in 1925 by settlers from Ammassalik further south, the Greenlanders named their village Ittoqqortoormiit, or ‘the land of the big houses’ for the colourful Danish-style houses that were built there. Ittoqqortoormiit’s structure is based on the Danish social model, with free health care and schooling. The government owns the main supermarket and other facilities. Back in 1925 nearly all the village men were hunters but now, while the hunting culture still exists, there are fewer hunters and dogs. All food caught is sold or shared locally. The town now looks toward tourism as a source of income, and is also commercialising in natural resources, such as sealskin, polar bear pelts and musk ox wool to export overseas. Hunting restrictions are rigid and this year’s quota of 35 polar bears has already been filled. There are only 2 communities on the eastern coast of Greenland so it was a real treat to visit one. Ittoqqortoormiit – Roughly Pronounced (ee-took-core-too-mit).
As we came closer to the community you could see the vibrant colours of the houses.
Once we set anchor we could see the community really well.
We arrived on land and had the afternoon to wander around the village.
We met one of the hunters who was proud to show off his skins and he was keen to let us taste musk ox. To me it tasted like beef. It was really nice. He was even happy to have his photo taken.
We wandered up to the soccer pitch on the hill as they had told us that they recently had some fake turf laid. The kids were making good use of it and it looked quite out of place amongst the rocks and ice.
We then went to visit the dogs at one of the working dog camps. There were various size puppies around. They were all tuckered out and were sleeping when we arrived.
Stella was the little girl proud to show off the puppies.
We spent all afternoon wandering around the little streets amazed at the palate of colour.
After we had gotten a taste for this remote village of 475 people, it was time to head back to the ship. Our wallets were a bit lighter, tummies a bit fuller (we decided to buy an ice-cream) and our minds were abuzz with even more questions about life in such a remote location.
During the night we steamed westward through the great Scoresbysund Fjord system and into Rode Fjord. After breakfast we donned the layers and lifejackets for a cruise around glorious Rode Island and the rich red Devonian sandstone.
The ultimate magic of the morning was the maze of grounded icebergs – art pieces each with a unique sculptural form. We spent leisurely time meandering through ‘iceberg alley’ – a cluster that seemed to stretch forever. We stopped by brilliant blue bergs, bergs laden with moraine, bergs the size of buildings with caves and arches that looked set to collapse.
We made a landing at Rode Islands sandy beach and climbed to the ridge to view the bergs.
Our trusty ship spent the next four hours weaving around bergs to navigate a course to Hare Fjord. The scenery and reflections were so lovely.
In perfectly still conditions we zoomed ashore at Hare Fjord for a walk across the tundra.
The view of the fjord was once again beautiful.
During the hike we got to see another four musk ox in the distance.
While this was all going on, the ship was preparing for a BBQ on the back deck. With wild crazy hats and lovely food, we danced the night away.
While partying the ship continued to glide down the fjord and we continued to enjoy the views.
Greenland, you beauty! While the days seem to roll on into the next, the incredible variety of sights, sounds and experiences is ever changing. Upon looking out our portholes this morning, we were greeted by a vast rocky mountain face, basking in the bright sun with swirls of yellow gneiss and sandy granite.
The impressive peak we were looking at was called Ingmikortilaq in Greenlandic.
We made our way by zodiac through the many icebergs of Nordvest Fjord. Despite being in awe yesterday this didn’t fail to impress. Daugard-Jensen, the glacier at the end of this fjord, is the third most productive glacier in Greenland, ejecting 11 square kilometres of iceberg a year. It is hard to believe that this is part of the broken off glacier as it could be mistaken for the face of the glacier.
Reflections were clear as the mirror images wound their way into creating lovely visions.
With the sun shining and some heat the bergs melted slowly making pretty patterns in bergs.
As the sun was shining it became apparent that it was the perfect day for a Polar Plunge. Shane decided to do it again, but this time from Deck 4.
This was the beautiful setting for the plunge.
We sailed back down the fjord and found ourselves in front of a Paleo-eskimo site known at Eskimobugt. Old remnants of at least dix Paleo-eskimo houses could be seen, as low tunnel like entrances give way to a type of sleeping porch higher up. We were able to see old artefacts such as tools used for hunting and working.
There was even an old grave
Up and over the hill a few musk oxen and arctic hare were spotted.
A wonderful last afternoon in Scoresbysund.
Well our last day in Greenland has come so quickly, but boy we have so many memorable moments.
When we awoke this morning we were in a big fog bank once again and you couldn’t see a thing. So it wasn’t a very promising start to our last day.
When we arrived at our final destination in the Romer Fjord we were lucky enough to have the fog lift. We were left with a mystical layer of sea mist that seemed to have a life of its own.
Best laid plans for a morning landing were put to rest when a polar bear was spotted swimming across the fjord. Our fifth bear in Greenland! Into the zodiacs we piled to go see if we could find him.
From the ship we had seen the polar bear emerge onshore but try as we might to find him or her, all we spotted were enticing white shapes through drifts of mist. It is surprising how many rocks look like polar bears. In this petite fjord on the Blosseville Coast is the site of some of Greenland’s thermal springs. They come right down to the water.
We were even lucky enough to see one last spectacular berg.
We stayed anchored in Romer Fjord and after lunch we made our final landing in Greenland. We went onshore to visit the Thermal Springs and the colourful plant life.
These thermal springs are impressive in themselves, with 60 degree celsius water bubbling out of cauldron pedestals formed from minerals brought to the surface.
Then Shane took one last gaze at Greenland.
Once back on the ship we set sail for Iceland. With Keflavik 350 nautical miles east, Captain Sasha navigated out of the fjord and into the waters of the Denmark Strait.
This morning we wound up all our admin on the ship and within no time we could see the north west coast of Iceland. Our trip took us 2,537 nautical miles which is about 4,600 km. Once again our luck held and we had a smooth passage across the strait.
We sailed past the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and could see the mountain where we will be in a couple of weeks from now while travelling around Iceland.
We enjoyed an Icelandic sunset as we cruised closer to Reykjavik.
We then went to bed and in the morning we would be docked in Iceland.